Nearly 35 years after the release of Disney's effective sci-fi thriller "Escape to Witch Mountain" (1975), there would seem only one way to improve it: better special effects. You'll see a few of those in this update, retitled "Race to Witch Mountain." There's a trade-off: The story, acting and dialogue somehow came out weaker and creakier than before.
Based loosely on Alexander Key's 1968 novel, this "Witch Mountain" stars Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson as Jack Bruno, a Las Vegas cabbie who one day picks up an unusual fare: blond, tweener twins named Sara (AnnaSophia Robb) and Seth (Alexander Ludwig). Robotically requesting his "transportation services," they direct him to a pair of coordinates in the Nevada desert. There they find a decrepit shack that's actually the portal to an underground world full of wondrous foliage and embryonic globs of goo.
In the original film, the twins' true identities provided a source of mystery, but here the screenwriters (Matt Lopez and Mark Bomback) blow it from scene one: They're aliens! No surprise, then, that Sara can read minds (even those of animals) and Seth can manipulate his molecular structure. By the time the skeptical Jack becomes convinced, he feels obligated to help the twins find their spaceship in the depths of Witch Mountain.
Cliches abound, and director Andy Fickman greets each one with a big high-five: The glowering government agent (Ciarán Hinds), the nice lady scientist (Carla Gugino), the lovable stray pooch, Cheech Marin, they're all here. And when we finally see the twins' spacecraft, would you believe it's circular with a slightly domed top? Like, a flying saucer?
Riddled with logical black holes that even a 7-year-old could spot, "Race to Witch Mountain" has little respect for its audience and no concern at all for entertainment-starved parents. Its best features are a squeaky-clean PG rating and a reasonably short running time.
PLOT A Las Vegas cabdriver helps a pair of alien tweens find their way home.
CAST Dwayne Johnson, Carla Gugino, AnnaSophia Robb, Alexander Ludwig
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE This remake of the 1975 Disney original looks and feels flatter than cardboard.